From Pain to Awareness: All About Yin Yoga

Image courtesy Unsplash

I used to dread Fridays. In fact, who am I kidding, I sometimes still do. Fridays at my Yoga class are reserved for Yin Yoga sessions, a particular school of Yoga that emphasizes holding traditional Asanas (yoga poses) for longer than usual. It is considered to be both a meditative and a deep stretching practise. But at first glance, it seems to be nothing more than an exercise in torture, without any of the calorie-burning aftereffects of other workouts.

In this blog, I’ll share with you the lowdown of Yin Yoga, its origins, philosophy, mental & physical benefits, as well as best practices — based on my personal experience, conversations with my Yoga teachers and online resources.

So, What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga is a slow-paced variation of traditional Yoga, that blends Chinese medicine principles with asanas that are held for longer durations of time such as 3–7 minutes. Such sequences and durations of asanas are said to stimulate certain points in the body known as ‘meridians’ in Chinese medicine, or ‘nadis’ in Hatha Yoga.

By applying light to moderate pressure on the connective tissues of the body — the tendons, fasciae, and ligaments, this school of Yoga helps increase joint circulation and flexibility. On a meditative plane, it helps instill inner awareness and a sense of interconnectedness both within our body and with other sentient beings.

Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang (Image courtesy Unsplash)

As you would have guessed, Yin Yoga is based on the Taoist concept of ‘yin and yang’. While ‘yin’ is considered to be feminine, passive and stable, ‘yang’ is masculine, active and mobile. In the body, the passive connective tissues (tendons, ligaments & fascia) are considered ‘yin’, while the active muscles and blood are called ‘yang’.

Yin Yoga helps harmonize the flow of ‘prana’ (life force) in our body, by applying slow, steady pressure on the connective tissues, making them longer and stronger. Unlike other dynamic Yoga practises, Yin Yoga is practised in a meditative state, with the teacher taking on a gentle, relaxing tone, encouraging asanas that are more passive and practised closer to the ground.

Here are a few common Yin Yoga poses —

Image courtesy Freckled Yogi

Yin Yoga Best Practises

Slow and steady: Each asana must be held for an adequate amount of time. Move in and out of each asana slowly and gently. Modify your pose if you feel extreme pain or discomfort.

Slowing down helps you to feel, heal both body and mind and make spaces for growth.

Consistency is key: Lean into each pose and don’t be afraid of pushing yourself a little more than before. Work to improve your own progress from the previous session rather than comparing yourself with others.

Listen to your body: No one knows your body like you do. While a certain degree of pain is normal within a Yin Yoga practise, don’t go overboard and exceed your body’s limitations. If you sense a sharp, shooting or electric pain through your body, slow down, gently move out of the pose and relax in Child’s Pose.

Just Be: Be in the moment. Instead of trying to ‘do’ a certain pose, just relax and ‘be’ in it. This is not a race or a chore to get done. Avoid any urges to yawn or fidget.

Make space for your body and mind, try to find stillness in each pose.

Find Your Edge: Pain is a sensation that we actively avoid in our daily lives. However, Yin Yoga pushes you to lean into pain, get uncomfortable, and work yourself to the point of “comfortable discomfort”. This point may be different for you each day. The key is finding it in each class and knowing that pain is just another sensation that controls your mind.

Ask yourself, “Will this pain bother me beyond the next 60 seconds?” The answer is most likely, “No”.

Breathe: Focus on your breath, this will help you let go of tension and hold each pose longer. Make sure to breathe from your diaphragm — inhale to fill your belly and expand your ribs, exhale and pull your navel into your spine.

Explore your Emotions: We hold all emotions in our hips, the ‘seat of creation’, worry in our shoulders and hurt, (what someone once said, or did) in our thighs.

Allow all these thoughts and feelings to surface, and see what comes up. Explore why you feel a certain way, without judgement. Know that these emotions no longer serve you and are finding a way to escape you. Then let them go.

In fact, the Frog Pose or Mandukasana, is a hip-opening pose that is also said to have trauma healing effects, when practised for greater lengths of time.

Yin Yoga Benefits

Improved Circulation & Flexibility: As we already discussed, Yin Yoga promotes elasticity of your connective tissues, releasing tension and carrying more oxygen towards connected muscles.

Lowered Stress & Anxiety: Regular Yin Yoga practice is said to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, known as the rest-and-digest response, that helps calm the body and slow down our heart rate, as compared to the autonomous nervous system that is responsible for our fight-or-flight response. This helps contribute to better sleep, balanced emotions and renewed mental focus.

Deeper Relaxation: According to Elise Greenspoon, a yoga teacher and wellness specialist, “Yin Yoga is a gentle form of yoga that’s cooling, grounding, and nurturing. Holding poses for longer periods encourages stillness so you can go inward. It benefits people who have experienced trauma or burnout by providing a safe space to reconnect to the sensations in the body without being overwhelmed by them.” In a sense, Yin Yoga provides us with access to a wider set of emotions that we would otherwise actively push away.

The bottom line.

So many of us live an active, fast-paced life, with hardly any thought given to restoring our bodies or renewing our minds. Yes, Yin Yoga is sometimes painful, but trust me, it gets better with time. In just a few sessions, you will experience greater joint mobility and flexibility, not to mention enhanced fortitude that will hold you in good stead, no matter what challenge you may be facing.

Yin Yoga is a conscious practise to correct the limitations of a hectic lifestyle. It is a wonderful starting point for anyone who is curious about meditation, breathwork or holistic wellness. It can also act as the perfect complement to other fast-paced workouts such as running, cycling or hitting the gym.

I hope you found this blog on Yin Yoga useful. Have questions or want to talk further? Drop me a comment or email me at [email protected].